The Harris-Klein Debate and Benefit of the Doubt

 

Jacob Falkovich, of PutANumOnIt fame, published a post-mortem on the Harris-Klein debate over IQ and race in Quillette. Not just the Quillette article, but the blog post inspiring it, The Context is the Conflict, are both worth a read. As Falkovich sees it, the Harris-Klein debate was merely one example of conflicting forms of political reasoning, pitting those who see political opponents as mistaken against those who see political opposition as conflict, and also pitting cognitive decoupling against contextualizing. To summarize the story the way Falkovich sees it, Sam Harris tells Ezra Klein, “Ezra, it’s dishonest of you to be so concerned with the social implications of the data that you discount what the data has to say,” and Klein shoots right back, “Sam, it’s dishonest of you to be so concerned with what the data allegedly says that you discount its social implications,” that is, whose interest is served by treating the data in question as reputable, and whose interests are harmed.

Both Klein and Harris have a point. We on the right are fairly open in our mistrust of “scientism,” after all. We know that, no matter how much data might seem to speak for itself, the scientific validity of data can’t be entirely separated from the nonscientific interests of the ones gathering, analyzing, publishing, and popularizing the data. Who funded a study, we wonder? Would funding have biased it? Was one study widely reported on while studies contradicting it were not; reflecting media bias? We aren’t fools for asking these questions, merely fools if we take them to their paranoid extreme: at some point, data must matter, even though it’s collected and interpreted by biased humans. Nonetheless, we suspect, probably rightly, that even good science can’t be wholly divorced from its social implications once it’s fodder for political dispute.

***

Harris represents what Falkovich and others call cognitive decoupling: “Let’s set aside context for a moment, and just consider these facts on their merit.” Klein, on the other hand, represents contextualizing: “No, we can’t ignore context, we must contextualize facts in order to be truly honest.” Nobody is all-decoupler or all-contextualizer. Rather, we alternate between both forms of cognition as needed — and we tend to disagree on what’s “needed”. Furthermore, we also alternate between two models of politics, “mistake theory”, which sees our political opponents as mistaken, and “conflict theory”, which sees politics as war. As Scott Alexander puts it at Slate Star Codex,

Mistake theorists treat politics as science, engineering, or medicine. The State is diseased. We’re all doctors, standing around arguing over the best diagnosis and cure. Some of us have good ideas, others have bad ideas that wouldn’t help, or that would cause too many side effects.

Conflict theorists treat politics as war. Different blocs with different interests are forever fighting to determine whether the State exists to enrich the Elites or to help the People.

Mistake theory is technocratic in mindset. This doesn’t mean mistake-theorists must favor technocratic solutions. Indeed, Hayekian arguments for why technocracy fails are mistake-theoretic arguments!

It’s perfectly possible to be an anti-technocrat mistake theorist. Nonetheless, mistake theory arguments tend toward the technical, favoring cognitive decoupling over contextualizing politics as conflict. Conflict theory, on the other hand, is tribal in mindset. Never mind who’s right, some side’s gotta win, so whose side will it be? Conflict theory correctly acknowledges that cognition surrounding politics is cultural, always done in the context of identity and affiliation, then turns this acknowledgement up to eleven.

We on the right often mix mistake theory with conflict theory, just as we mix decoupling with contextualizing. For example, when right-leaning STEM logic “decoupling blackbelts” express skepticism of the data in a study because they suspect left-wing institutional bias, they’re contextualizing, just in a very decouply way. Public choice theory? Classically a discipline populated by mistake-theorists, but one used to detect conflicts of interest arising in government. And so on. When we label one another mistake or conflict theorists, decouplers or contextualizers, these labels are provisional, reflecting who’s playing what role when, rather than innate identities. Nonetheless, it’s hard not to notice some general trends.

***

Some people consider it a matter of principle to play politics in decoupling mistake-theory mode as much as possible, while others consider it a matter of realism to play politics as much as possible in contextualizing conflict mode. Wonkishness is a decoupling mistake-theory trait; partisanship, a contextualizing conflict-theory trait. The horse-race aspects of politics are particularly oriented toward conflict theory, and the spread of a conflict-theory worldview corresponds to rising political polarization.

There are a lot of conflict theorists on the right as well as the left these days. Many conflict theorists on the right will tell you they’ve been bullied into favoring the conflict-theory worldview: they didn’t start out as conflict theorists, they didn’t want to be conflict theorist, but they believe the left has left them no choice, and so conflict theory it is. They tend to see those on the right who remain mistake theorists as wimps and dupes. Ironically for righties who feel bullied into conflict theory, conflict theorists often come across as bullies to their opponents, and especially to the opponents who are also other conflict theorists.

Conflict theorists tend to see their opponents as oppressors, either actual or potential, and consequently believe that “taking the oppressors down a peg” isn’t bullying, but merely retributive justice and self-defense — necessary for the good order of society as well as the survival of their own kind. The uncharitable term for this would be “crybullying”. We on the right see Ezra Klein as a crybully. When Klein doesn’t like the facts, he throws a tantrum of moral indignation to socially manipulate purveyors of inconvenient facts, like Harris, into shutting up. We on the right look upon Harris as heroic by comparison: look at him being all principled and reasonable and stuff! Bask in the radiance of his pure STEMlogic! Nonetheless, the tables could easily be turned.

***

As I mentioned earlier, we righties are also quite ready to contextualize scientific claims which raise our hackles. Whose interest, after all, is served by calling studies which threaten our tribe’s worldview good science? If some neuroscientists reportedly claim there really is no difference between male and female brains, do we believe them, or is our immediate hunch that something’s off? If Ezra Klein pelted us with study after study to show we were in the wrong, would we believe him? No. In fact, our argument with him might run something like this:

Klein: Look at all these studies! I have so many studies!
Us: Yeah, government studies.
Klein: What’s wrong with government studies? Do you think your Uncle Sam would lie to you?
Us: Yeah, we do. Deep state. Public choice. Whatever you want to call it, it means lies.
Klein: OK, then show me your data.
Us: If you insist, here are some industry studies.
Klein: ???!!!
Us: Industries can’t lie very much to themselves and still expect to turn a profit. This limits their bias, which maybe ain’t saying much, but it’s still closer than government work.

Almost immediately, what started as wonky mistake-theoretic data comparison devolves into one side shouting “But Big Government!!!” while the other side shouts, “But Big Business!!!” What started all nice and decoupled is now contextualized and tribal. It’s now not a matter of facts, but of whose facts you trust. Mere data by itself is no longer the source of conflict. Instead, the context is conflict.

***

Whose facts do you trust? Ezra Klein is wrong about many things, but he’s right that facts in isolation can’t tell the whole story. Whose facts they are matters, even when we wish it didn’t. Even in matters of science, trust in the people involved comes into play. So who gets the benefit of your doubt?

***

@drbastiat recently posted on a friend of his, Bob. Bob’s advanced training in chemistry makes Bob sound like a paragon of STEMlogic decoupling. And yet, to Dr Bastiat’s puzzlement, Bob is a flaming leftist. How can this be? My best guess is that Dr Bastiat and Bob probably differ on whom they give the benefit of the doubt.

The benefit of the doubt is more than charitable mental hygiene. It’s also a powerful social statement. Who gets it, and how much? Harris, used to playing in mistake-theory land where trust is high and benefit of the doubt is relatively mutual, naturally sees Klein’s objections to him as mistaken. For, as Scott Alexander says,

Mistake theorists naturally think conflict theorists are making a mistake… [that] conflict theorists don’t understand the Principle of Charity, or Hanlon’s Razor of “never attribute to malice what can be better explained by stupidity”…The correct response is to teach them…

…Conflict theorists naturally think mistake theorists are the enemy in their conflict… [that] they’ve become part of a class that’s more interested in protecting its own privileges than in helping the poor or working for the good of all. The best that can be said about the best of them is that they’re trying to protect their own neutrality, unaware that in the struggle between the powerful and the powerless neutrality always favors the powerful. The correct response is to crush them.

Or, if not crush them, then at the very least distrust them. To Harris, Klein not giving the data Harris cites the benefit of the doubt is a massive display of bad faith. It’s morally wrong. To Klein, giving untrustworthy people the benefit of the doubt by, for example, accepting their data as data rather than propaganda, is likewise morally wrong: the benefit of the doubt is too socially powerful to bestow so lightly.

***

Falkovich observes,

[“Crush them”] points to a key asymmetry between conflict theorists and mistake theorists. It takes two to tango, and it takes two to have an honest debate, which is the mistake theorist’s favored approach to disagreement. But it only takes one to declare war. When conflict theorists and mistake theorists meet, the result is more often war than an honest debate.

As my fictional Klein-vs-us skit illustrated, even when two sides of an issue agree to meet in mistake-theory land, if there’s enough distrust, their debate will devolve into war. Who gets the benefit of your doubt, and how much? That’s the key to so much of our political conflict.

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  1. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    Ed G. (View Comment):
    Hmm, I think Harris was attempting to separate the data/argument from the person. To depersonalize the discussion. He just didn’t do a good job of it.

    Yes, that’s precisely my point. He wanted to depersonalize it, but failed. Had he been familiar enough with Klein’s style to anticipate his attacks and start off the conversation by distancing himself from the personal issues he could have run circles around Klein’s inferior debating skills.

    But instead, he fell prey to the old adage of “never get into an argument with a contextualizer, he’ll just pull you down to his level and beat you with experience.”

    • #31
  2. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Ed G. (View Comment):

    Mendel (View Comment):

    And in all honesty, I think everyone is investing way too much effort in a debate that was, at its core, pretty darn worthless and not a suitable representative for the “decoupling vs. contextualization” debate (or however else people want to frame it).

    Primarily because Ezra Klein is not so much a prototypical contextualizer as he is an unintellectual partisan hack who speaks in a calm tone. But Sam Harris is also far from blameless in rendering an important conversation into a time-wasting goat rope. His initial error was hitching himself to Charles Murray the person instead of the controversial data in the Bell Curve.

    Hmm, I think Harris was attempting to separate the data/argument from the person. To depersonalize the discussion. He just didn’t do a good job of it. Harris’s problem (one of them) was that he kinda sorta agrees with Klein that to even be interested in the topic is kinda sorta an indicator of possible racism and that conservative/libertarian policy prescriptions compound the suspicion (as distinguished from Klein who thinks it’s proof positive of racism). The argument would have been more productive if Harris had defended the idea that there are good non-racist reasons 1) to inquire on the topic, 2) to conclude non PC things, and 3) to advocate for non-progressive policy prescriptions.

    Hopefully, but it’s also possible the argument would have been as unproductive, just in a different way.

    • #32
  3. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Cross-posting this from the PIT:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Frank Soto (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Frank Soto (View Comment):
    There was one useful thing I took away from this, which was when Harris criticized Klein’s identity politics and Klein responded essentially that everyone operates on the politics of identity, even Sam. The phrase is over used and under revealing is most contexts, but is perfectly applicable here: This is how you get Trump.

    I do think that Klein is partly right that everyone operates on the politics of identity, even Sam. But many manage to do it only in a weak sense, and making the moral effort to keep one’s own identity politics in check is a good thing. Does Sam have an identity politics? I’m sure he does. But he tries to get beyond it. No one is ever 100% successful in this effort, but that doesn’t make it not worth making.

    Klein making this point was effectively a non-sequitur. It is only relevant if Sam is playing identity politics on the question at hand, which he clearly wasn’t.

    Klein’s position, though, is that no matter what we say or do, it plays to identity politics in some respect. Even what we’re saying and doing is a conscious effort to avoid deliberately playing to identity politics. I am somewhat sympathetic to Klein having a point here (maybe moderating will do that to you); however, he shouldn’t treat it as a big-enough point to derail conversation.

    • #33
  4. Arizona Patriot Member
    Arizona Patriot
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Shawn Buell (Majestyk) (View Comment):

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):
    This struck me as astonishing Left-wing blindness, in a very smart guy. Even a hyper-intellect like Harris with a notable commitment to the search for truth can fail to see something glaringly obvious, when it violates his ideological preconceptions.

    I completely agree with Sam when he questions the wisdom of going looking for these sorts of differences because of the automatic assumption that they will (as they have been in the past) be used to make invidious comparisons between the races as a blunt instrument.

    Clearly, even though it violates his “ideological preconceptions” he views the facts such as they are objectively and seems to want to find means by which the results of those facts can be ameliorated.

    There’s a difference between noting that this statistical phenomenon is true and then using it as the prism through which we focus our entire picture of the world. Klein of course is totally bananas to say (in essence) that there is no lens, and to suggest that there is a lens is de facto evidence of latent racism.

    It seems to me that, in order to evaluate allegations of systemic racism or sexism, you must do a detailed, multivariate analysis including as many potentially explanatory variables as feasible.  The residual variation in such an analysis is the maximum possible variation attributable to the racism or sexism.

    If IQ is an important variable explaining differences in many outcomes, as indicated by many studies including The Bell Curve, then IQ must be included in the analysis.  Leaving out a significant explanatory independent variable essentially invalidates any multivariate analysis.

    Note that the residual variation is not proof of racism or sexism, but only a cap on the variation potentially attributable to these factors.  Cultural factors between groups, or other omitted variables, could also explain part of the residual.

    Do you have a way of evaluating allegations of systemic racism or sexism that could somehow omit IQ as a potentially explanatory variable?  If not, then how can you question the wisdom of such investigation?

    I believe it to be well-established that performing a proper multi-variate analysis eliminates almost all of any racial or sex differential in outcome for most relevant variables (though I think that criminality is an exception).  This leads to the next problem: is the differential in IQ between races innate, or environmental?

    The Bell Curve addressed this to some extent, but found insufficient data to draw a solid conclusion, except (if I remember correctly) to say that: (1) it appears very unlikely that the difference is 100% environmental; and (2) the data do not yet justify an estimate of the extent of the contribution of genetics and environment.

    This is probably a question that would have been answered by now, but for the vicious campaign of slanderous propaganda leveled against Murray, which I suspect has stifled exploration in this area.

    • #34
  5. Arizona Patriot Member
    Arizona Patriot
    @ArizonaPatriot

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    There are millions of jobs that are available for people with 80 IQs: supermarket baggers, janitors, street repairmen, etc. Almost any simple, repetitive job can be done by those with 80 IQs. My local Safeway has hired a few people with Down Syndrome to be baggers. And I have seen Down Syndrome people—some with IQs in the 60s and 70s—in a variety of jobs. And there are many jobs in construction that can use workers with low intelligence—and that pay very well indeed.

    Automation is not going to do away with most of these jobs—at least not until we have flying cars.

     

    Kent, do you have data on this?  I’m not trying to be a pain — I’m genuinely curious.  I’ve had difficulty finding any data on an IQ cutoff for ability to function in modern society, with its increased complexity.

    I cited Peterson and Gottfredson, who have given some information in this regard in certain podcasts (Stefan Molyneux has a good YouTube interview of Gottfredson here — it’s 2 hours long, so it’s not for the faint of heart).

    I’m quite concerned that the IQ cutoff for basic competence might be much higher than we realize.  I agree that supermarket bagger could be a viable job, but I’m not sure of the others.  I don’t say that a low-IQ person would be unable to do a janitorial or street repair job, but they might well be unable to do it without supervision, and the need for closer supervision would disqualify them economically.

    Again, I really don’t know the facts.  I worry that the cutoff is substantially higher than the traditional measure of retardation (IQ 70).

    • #35
  6. Arizona Patriot Member
    Arizona Patriot
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):

    I believe it to be well-established that performing a proper multi-variate analysis eliminates almost all of any racial or sex differential in outcome for most relevant variables (though I think that criminality is an exception). 

    On further reflection, I think that rates of illegitimacy is also an exception (i.e. there remains a significant black-white gap even after accounting for many other variables).

    • #36
  7. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):
    …and the need for closer supervision would disqualify them economically.

    The need for supervision does seem the hardest part to manage economically. 

    • #37
  8. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):

    I believe it to be well-established that performing a proper multi-variate analysis eliminates almost all of any racial or sex differential in outcome for most relevant variables (though I think that criminality is an exception).

    On further reflection, I think that rates of illegitimacy is also an exception (i.e. there remains a significant black-white gap even after accounting for many other variables).

    According to one of Ann Coulter’s books (citing someone else’s evidence, of course), this explains the entire difference.  Control for out of wedlock birth between black and white, and all the differences shrink to statistical noise.

    • #38
  9. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):

    I believe it to be well-established that performing a proper multi-variate analysis eliminates almost all of any racial or sex differential in outcome for most relevant variables (though I think that criminality is an exception).

    On further reflection, I think that rates of illegitimacy is also an exception (i.e. there remains a significant black-white gap even after accounting for many other variables).

    According to one of Ann Coulter’s books (citing someone else’s evidence, of course), this explains the entire difference. Control for out of wedlock birth between black and white, and all the differences shrink to statistical noise.

    If true, that’s really interesting. But if it were true, would Harris and Murray have missed out on that argument? I think if they had argued it, we would have heard. (But I could be wrong.)

    • #39
  10. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):

    I believe it to be well-established that performing a proper multi-variate analysis eliminates almost all of any racial or sex differential in outcome for most relevant variables (though I think that criminality is an exception).

    On further reflection, I think that rates of illegitimacy is also an exception (i.e. there remains a significant black-white gap even after accounting for many other variables).

    According to one of Ann Coulter’s books (citing someone else’s evidence, of course), this explains the entire difference. Control for out of wedlock birth between black and white, and all the differences shrink to statistical noise.

    If true, that’s really interesting. But if it were true, would Harris and Murray have missed out on that argument? I think if they had argued it, we would have heard. (But I could be wrong.)

    This looks like a decent digest of that part of the book.

    • #40
  11. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):

    the reality is that our culture is fast moving towards a world where there is not a lot for someone with an IQ below 80 to do. Then what? They won’t be able to just “get a job” like the right wants them to…

    I think it’s a bit worse than this. My impression is that the cutoff is somewhere in the 83-85 range, and that we’re not just heading toward such a world, we’re already there.

    I don’t really follow this. The big buzz today is around AI – Artificial Intelligence. When previous technological revolutions produced Artificial Speed (trains, cars, planes) and Artificial Strength (machinery of many kinds), it wasn’t the quick and the strong who were advantaged, but those who didn’t have natural speed and natural strength. If machines can amplify intelligence, then surely that opens up more, not fewer, opportunities for those to the left of the bell curve. After all, a simple thing like Uber has turned the average driver (perhaps even the below-average driver) into a better taxi driver than the best ‘natural’ taxi-driver. What else is possible?

    (Having said that, I’m something of an AI and IQ skeptic.)

    • #41
  12. HeavyWater Reagan
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    There are millions of jobs that are available for people with 80 IQs: supermarket baggers, janitors, street repairmen, etc. Almost any simple, repetitive job can be done by those with 80 IQs. My local Safeway has hired a few people with Down Syndrome to be baggers. And I have seen Down Syndrome people—some with IQs in the 60s and 70s—in a variety of jobs. And there are many jobs in construction that can use workers with low intelligence—and that pay very well indeed.

    Automation is not going to do away with most of these jobs—at least not until we have flying cars.

    I agree.  The idea that there are no jobs for people who have below average IQs is only partially true.

    The minimum wage does destroy jobs for people with 80-85 IQs while usually leaving jobs for people with 125-130 IQs mostly in the clear.

    Charles Murray co-wrote the Bell Curve in 1994 and then wrote, by himself, “What It Means To Be A Libertarian” in 1997.

    In other words, Murray did not think, “Well, since we have these people with IQs of 80, we need to increase taxes and spending.”

    In his more recent book, “In Our Hands,” Murray is willing to consider Universal Basic Income, but only in exchange for getting rid of Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps and a whole host of other social programs that require tons of administrative overhead.

    • #42
  13. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):

    OK, I know that this fact makes me really, really weird. I was once a grad student in math, focusing on probability and statistics.

    Please feel free to dissect, clarify, and digest statistics from news stories for the benefit of all. 

    • #43
  14. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Cross-posting this from the PIT:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Frank Soto (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Frank Soto (View Comment):
    There was one useful thing I took away from this, which was when Harris criticized Klein’s identity politics and Klein responded essentially that everyone operates on the politics of identity, even Sam. The phrase is over used and under revealing is most contexts, but is perfectly applicable here: This is how you get Trump.

    I do think that Klein is partly right that everyone operates on the politics of identity, even Sam. But many manage to do it only in a weak sense, and making the moral effort to keep one’s own identity politics in check is a good thing. Does Sam have an identity politics? I’m sure he does. But he tries to get beyond it. No one is ever 100% successful in this effort, but that doesn’t make it not worth making.

    Klein making this point was effectively a non-sequitur. It is only relevant if Sam is playing identity politics on the question at hand, which he clearly wasn’t.

    Klein’s position, though, is that no matter what we say or do, it plays to identity politics in some respect. Even what we’re saying and doing is a conscious effort to avoid deliberately playing to identity politics. I am somewhat sympathetic to Klein having a point here (maybe moderating will do that to you); however, he shouldn’t treat it as a big-enough point to derail conversation.

    It doesn’t so much derail conversation as preclude it. At its most extreme, contextualization means that we can’t agree on anything unless we already agree on everything. 

    A: “Here is an unfortunate fact.” 

    B: “Your fact is racist. Surrender or admit that you are racist.” 

    • #44
  15. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    TBA (View Comment):

    It doesn’t so much derail conversation as preclude it. At its most extreme, contextualization means that we can’t agree on anything unless we already agree on everything. 

    I don’t think contextualization, even extreme contextualization, need always be weaponized in that way, but in practice it usually is.

    “Let’s have a frank, good-natured chat addressing each others’ cultural biases” is very hard to pull off. “Your biases are evil, therefore you’ve lost the argument already,” is somehow much easier.

    • #45
  16. HeavyWater Reagan
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    Does anyone know how Ezra Klein and Vox generally have responded to the argument that Harvard is discriminating against Asian-Americans?  

    It seems that “Asian exceptionalism” is a hard thing for Leftists like Ezra Klein to rebut.  Are we to believe that someone is “cooking the books” or creating fake data to make it appear that Asians get higher test scores than other racial-ethnic groups?

    • #46
  17. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Does anyone know how Ezra Klein and Vox generally have responded to the argument that Harvard is discriminating against Asian-Americans?

    It seems that “Asian exceptionalism” is a hard thing for Leftists like Ezra Klein to rebut. Are we to believe that someone is “cooking the books” or creating fake data to make it appear that Asians get higher test scores than other racial-ethnic groups?

    They can’t say that though. Imagine how it would go. 

    “Asians are secretly plotting to make themselves look mentally superior.” 

    “You mean it’s, kind of an insidious Max Rohmer-style Yellow Peril-type thing?” 

    ~head explodes in racist self-judgement~ 

    • #47
  18. HeavyWater Reagan
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    Several months ago I was having lunch with an Japanese-American woman who has an 18 year old daughter.  The daughter was getting ready to graduate from high school and she is an excellent ballet dancer.  She was weighing either going to college or trying to get a dancing job.

    A friend of mine, a white guy, who was also at our lunch, said to the Japanese-American woman, “Your daughter will likely do well at anything she chooses to do.”

    The Japanese-American woman, who holds (let me be tactful) Left of center political views, raised her voice just a little bit, saying, “Oh, because she’s Asian?”

    The conversation continued and was pleasant.  But I always get a chuckle when thinking about it.

    The man complemented her daughter.  But it was, apparently, a racist comment because he revealed his pro-Asian bigotry.  My wife told me later,

    You can’t win for losin’

    • #48
  19. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    For example, those on the right speak in favor of equality of opportunity while those on the left speak in favor of equality of outcome, or at least more equal outcomes.  It has gone so far that people on the left openly oppose free speech if it leads to bad outcomes. Their statements to this effect will use the word “weaponized” to chilling effect. 

    Years ago I used to think this principle of equality of opportunity really did define conservatives in contrast to the left. 

    More recently I’ve come to think conservatives are just as willing to abandon equality of opportunity if it doesn’t lead to their preferred outcomes as the left is. 

    I am not going to give examples here.  

    • #49
  20. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    For example, those on the right speak in favor of equality of opportunity while those on the left speak in favor of equality of outcome, or at least more equal outcomes. It has gone so far that people on the left openly oppose free speech if it leads to bad outcomes. Their statements to this effect will use the word “weaponized” to chilling effect.

    Years ago I used to think this principle of equality of opportunity really did define conservatives in contrast to the left.

    More recently I’ve come to think conservatives are just as willing to abandon equality of opportunity if it doesn’t lead to their preferred outcomes as the left is.

    I am not going to give examples here.

     “Everybody talks about the principle, but nobody does anything about it.” 

    • #50
  21. Arizona Patriot Member
    Arizona Patriot
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):

    I believe it to be well-established that performing a proper multi-variate analysis eliminates almost all of any racial or sex differential in outcome for most relevant variables (though I think that criminality is an exception).

    On further reflection, I think that rates of illegitimacy is also an exception (i.e. there remains a significant black-white gap even after accounting for many other variables).

    According to one of Ann Coulter’s books (citing someone else’s evidence, of course), this explains the entire difference. Control for out of wedlock birth between black and white, and all the differences shrink to statistical noise.

    If true, that’s really interesting. But if it were true, would Harris and Murray have missed out on that argument? I think if they had argued it, we would have heard. (But I could be wrong.)

    It’s probably more complicated than this.  In a multivariate analysis, many of the “independent” variables may have covariance (meaning that they are related).  I put “independent” in quotes because, while such variables may be independent as used in a particular analysis, they are not necessarily truly independent of each other.  Another problem in the social sciences is that there can be something like “feedback loops,” where variables have a mutually causal relationship.

    Here is an example, which is just hypothetical (though plausible).  Perhaps there is an inherent biological IQ differential, say between whites and East Asians.  Higher IQ may cause higher marriage rates, lower illegitimacy, more breastfeeding, better parenting in some ways, and more parental commitment to education.  Each of these factors may, in turn, contribute to higher IQ among the children.  This effect could amplify through a few generations.

    The complexity increases with cultural differences, which are likely to have different norms regarding, for example, education, the work/leisure balance, illegitimacy, and parenting activities.

    Back to the original comment: If I recall correctly (from The Bell Curve), illegitimacy is correlated with low IQ, low socioeconomic status, low educational attainment, and race (i.e. blacks had a higher illegitimacy rate even after correcting for these other factors).  Because all of these factors have fairly strong covariance, correcting for just illegitimacy may pick up much of the effect of IQ, socioeconomic status, and educational attainment.

    This does not change the mathematical fact that if you omit a significant variable, it technically invalidates the entire analysis.  It can even flip the direction of the effect of some variables.  I can’t remember which dependent variable they were looking at, and I’m at work without access to the book, but I seem to recall one analysis in The Bell Curve in which the expected effect of socioeconomic status actually flipped once IQ was added to the equation.

    • #51
  22. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):
    ….Because all of these factors have fairly strong covariance, correcting for just illegitimacy may pick up much of the effect of IQ, socioeconomic status, and educational attainment.

    Your whole comment was an eminently clear explanation, and addressed the doubts I also had. 

    I appreciate you digging into the statistics like this for us geeks who can follow along.

    • #52
  23. Nick H Coolidge
    Nick H
    @NickH

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):
    I’m quite concerned that the IQ cutoff for basic competence might be much higher than we realize. I agree that supermarket bagger could be a viable job, but I’m not sure of the others. I don’t say that a low-IQ person would be unable to do a janitorial or street repair job, but they might well be unable to do it without supervision, and the need for closer supervision would disqualify them economically.

    I’m not sure if you can use IQ to set a limit like this. There are people with low IQ’s who may take a long time to learn something, but once they do learn it do quite well in that area. Of course there are also people who take a long time to learn something and then can’t retain the knowledge once they do get it. The former might do quite well in a number of jobs, but the latter is going to be limited. IQ can’t really make the distinction. IQ also says nothing about work ethic. There are some tasks where hard work matters more than IQ. I will agree that people with limited intelligence will struggle in a highly technical society, but dumb people aren’t going to be completely excluded. Want proof? Go look at Twitter.

    • #53
  24. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Nick H (View Comment):
    There are people with low IQ’s who may take a long time to learn something, but once they do learn it do quite well in that area.

    That sounds like me and language learning.

    • #54
  25. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Nick H (View Comment):
    IQ also says nothing about work ethic. There are some tasks where hard work matters more than IQ.

    I wonder about this, because I have a toddler. For all I know, my toddler’s IQ is normal, but his cognition isn’t developed enough to stick to multi-step tasks, and as a result, he shows no signs of persevering to please another yet, which is kinda what work ethic is. In normal-to-high IQ adults, IQ seems distinct from work ethic, but all those people have enough IQ to think at least one step ahead most of the time. 

    An IQ low enough where that weren’t possible, or were extremely difficult, would make having a work ethic tough, since work ethic isn’t just will but skill, and requires some minimum ability to organize and plan ahead.

    • #55
  26. Nick H Coolidge
    Nick H
    @NickH

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Nick H (View Comment):
    IQ also says nothing about work ethic. There are some tasks where hard work matters more than IQ.

    I wonder about this, because I have a toddler. For all I know, my toddler’s IQ is normal, but his cognition isn’t developed enough to stick to multi-step tasks, and as a result, he shows no signs of persevering to please another yet, which is kinda what work ethic is. In normal-to-high IQ adults, IQ seems distinct from work ethic, but all those people have enough IQ to think at least one step ahead most of the time.

    An IQ low enough where that weren’t possible, or were extremely difficult, would make having a work ethic tough, since work ethic isn’t just will but skill, and requires some minimum ability to organize and plan ahead.

    There’s definitely some truth in this, but don’t count out the will. Sheer bloody minded stubbornness can go a long way. :)

    I’m basing a lot of this on kids too. My wife is a 2nd grade teacher, and I often help her grade papers. It doesn’t take long at all to tell which kids understand the subject,  which ones mostly have it figured out, and which ones don’t get it at all. All these kids also come with different levels of effort that they put into each assignment. You can see which kids were careful to do the work and which ones rushed through. It becomes obvious which errors are stupid mistakes and which ones are wild guesses or complete cluelessness. For the kids who don’t understand the subject at all but work hard at it, when it does click for them they go from getting most answers wrong to getting them all right. It’s usually the bright kids that make the stupid mistakes. Of course there are also some kids who don’t get it and don’t care. Those are the really frustrating ones for a teacher, and they’re not always the kids with the lowest IQ’s.

    • #56
  27. Ontheleftcoast Inactive
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):
    blacks had a higher illegitimacy rate even after correcting for these other factors

    If I understand correctly, the same population at the turn of the 20th century had a slightly lower than average rate of illegitimacy.

    • #57
  28. Ontheleftcoast Inactive
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    Nick H (View Comment):
    There’s definitely some truth in this, but don’t count out the will. Sheer bloody minded stubbornness can go a long way. :)

    One of my favorite PBS memories was a show on brain function. They featured a young woman in the UK who received such inadequate medical care that her hydrocephalus wasn’t diagnosed until she was two or three, by which time she had lost a lot of brain tissues. At that point a shunt was put in. Her head looked kind of funny, the fMRI showed huge ventricles (cerebrospinal fluid filled but otherwise empty space where brain tissue should be) and most of the activity was at the rear of her brain.

    She was going to be the first member of her family to go to college. The interviewer asked if she understood her medical condition.

    “Oh, yes.”

    So to what did she attribute her accomplishments in the face of what the imaging showed?

    Pause.

    “Well, I’m the sort of person that if you tell me I can’t do something, I can’t rest until I’ve done it.”

    Mother, standing behind her: Vehement nodding, wide eyes, eye roll.

    • #58
  29. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Ontheleftcoast (View Comment):

    Nick H (View Comment):
    There’s definitely some truth in this, but don’t count out the will. Sheer bloody minded stubbornness can go a long way. :)

    One of my favorite PBS memories was a show on brain function. They featured a young woman in the UK who received such inadequate medical care that her hydrocephalus wasn’t diagnosed until she was two or three, by which time she had lost a lot of brain tissues. At that point a shunt was put in. Her head looked kind of funny, the fMRI showed huge ventricles (cerebrospinal fluid filled but otherwise empty space where brain tissue should be) and most of the activity was at the rear of her brain.

    She was going to be the first member of her family to go to college. The interviewer asked if she understood her medical condition.

    “Oh, yes.”

    So to what did she attribute her accomplishments in the face of what the imaging showed?

    Pause.

    “Well, I’m the sort of person that if you tell me I can’t do something, I can’t rest until I’ve done it.”

    Mother, standing behind her: Vehement nodding, wide eyes, eye roll.

    Not to be pedantic — or rather precisely to be pedantic — but did the show mention her IQ? Brain plasticity is definitely a thing, and good reason not to give up on the brain-damaged. But… don’t the brain-damaged recover some IQ points as they recover from their injury?

    I think hard work and grit can do a lot, and I’m not sure how pessimistic we should be about, say, IQ 85 people, but there are diminishing returns on hard work the more incapacitated you are (whether mentally or physically), and at some point, it becomes cruel to expect those with the biggest burdens to overcome them through willpower alone when truly heroic willpower, beyond what the vast majority of fully-capable people could muster, is what would be needed.

    I don’t know where that cutoff is, IQ-wise, and let’s hope that some combo of compensatory technology and community support can keep pushing that threshhold downward. But I can’t shake the feeling that’s its cruel to be too optimistic about these things.

    • #59
  30. Arizona Patriot Member
    Arizona Patriot
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Nick H (View Comment):

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):
    I’m quite concerned that the IQ cutoff for basic competence might be much higher than we realize. I agree that supermarket bagger could be a viable job, but I’m not sure of the others. I don’t say that a low-IQ person would be unable to do a janitorial or street repair job, but they might well be unable to do it without supervision, and the need for closer supervision would disqualify them economically.

    I’m not sure if you can use IQ to set a limit like this. There are people with low IQ’s who may take a long time to learn something, but once they do learn it do quite well in that area. Of course there are also people who take a long time to learn something and then can’t retain the knowledge once they do get it. The former might do quite well in a number of jobs, but the latter is going to be limited. IQ can’t really make the distinction. IQ also says nothing about work ethic. There are some tasks where hard work matters more than IQ. I will agree that people with limited intelligence will struggle in a highly technical society, but dumb people aren’t going to be completely excluded. Want proof? Go look at Twitter.

    We need a source of data about this, not our own opinions about what “people with low IQ” are like, because we don’t generally know the IQ of the people around us.  I could find relatively little about this.  One source I found is a website by someone named Paul Cooijmans, who apparently heads a couple of high-IQ societies, but I cannot attest to its accuracy.  Here is what Cooijmans’s site says:

    70-79 – Borderline retarded

    Limited trainability. Have difficulty with everyday demands like using a phone book, reading bus or train schedules, banking, filling out forms, using appliances like a video recorder, microwave oven, or computer, et cetera, and therefore require assistance from relatives or social workers in the management of their affairs. Can be employed in simple tasks but require supervision.

    80-89 — Below average

    Above the threshold for normal independent functioning. Can perform explicit routinized hands-on tasks without supervision as long as there are no moments of choice and it is always clear what has to be done. Assembler, food service.

    This suggests that around 80 is the cutoff.  The US military’s minimum of 83 is another reasonable figure.  This is approximately what I expect, and fear, to be the case.

    [Continued]

    • #60
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